Wearable-computer fans who let their guards down after a San Diego woman was acquitted of driving while Google Glass’ed might want to hackle up again.
According to a report from the victims themselves, a Columbus, Ohio couple were dragged out of a local movie theater and questioned for between three and four hours over concerns that the husband might have been using Glass to surreptitiously record and pirate the movie “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.” (Irony alert!)
The incident raises the possibility that agents of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may be cruising movie theaters looking for national security threats wearing Google Glasses, or that DHS agents are available to respond to emergency movie-pirating concerns raised by representatives of the movie-copyright-protecting Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).
A Google Glass user identified only as “T.U.” was pulled out of a an AMC movie theater Jan. 18 because someone in the theater reported to theater managers that he was wearing Google Glass in the theater. The theater manager reportedly phoned a local MPAA representative, who called the FBI.
All of this came as a surprise to T.U., who had worn his Google Glass to the same theater two or three times before and even talked to theater employees about it. He left the unit turned off to avoid being distracted during the movie, T.U. wrote in an email to The Gadgeteer recounting the experience.
About an hour into the movie, according to T.U., a man approached his seat, flashed a badge, “yank[ed] the Google Glass off my face and says ‘follow me outside immediately.'”
Squinting, because the $1,500 Google Glass unit T.U. had worn for two months was attached to $600 prescription eyeglasses, T.U. accompanied the agent to the lobby, where he was confronted by a phalanx of five to ten local police and mall security officers as well as one agent claiming to work for “the federal service,” who accused T.U. of using his Google Glass to illegally tape the movie.
T.U. tried to explain that he’d been wearing the Glass for two months, had worn it to movies in that same theater three times before, and that he turned off the augmented-reality unit during the movie because it was distracting.
T.U. was then searched, his wallet, personal and work phones were confiscated and, “after an embarrassing 20-30 minutes outside the movie theater,” T.U. and his wife were escorted into separate rooms in the Easton Mall management office where they could be interrogated separately.
The “Feds,” who showed badges but didn’t identify themselves or their agencies, questioned T.U. for more than an hour, while assuring him the session was a “voluntary interview,” not an arrest. “But if I choose not to cooperate, bad things may happen to me,” T.U. wrote.
T.U. told the agents repeatedly that the Glass had a USB port they could use to look at its contents – permission they might otherwise have required a warrant to obtain.
The agents, according to T.U.’s version, refused to let him touch the Glass for fear he’d erase the evidence, insisted they’d seen the unit turned on while T.U. was sitting in the movie and pressed him with questions about where he lived, where he worked and accusations of his alleged wrongdoing. “They wanted to know… why am I recording the movie, who am I going to give the recording to, why don’t I just give up the guy up the chain, ’cause they are not interested in me. Over and over and over again,” T.U. wrote.
He offered to prove the Glass was his personal property and demonstrate it hadn’t been recording, because when it records more than a few minutes of video, it heats up noticeably. Instead they asked what Google asks him to do in exchange for using the Glass, how much it pays him, who was his boss in the movie-pirating scheme, and why was he recording the movie.
An agent with a laptop eventually showed up with a USB cable, connected it to the Glass, downloaded all T.U.’s personal photos and other data. They also searched his phone “and 5 minutes later they concluded I had done nothing wrong,” T.U. said.
Immediately afterward, “movie association” representative Bob Hope came in to apologize for the inconvenience, explain there was a serious problem with movie pirating at that theater and offer T.U. two free movie passes in case he and his wife wanted to see the movie again.
“I would have been fine with ‘I’m sorry this happened, please accept our apologies,'” T.U. wrote. “All he said was [that] AMC called him and he called the FBI.”
In a follow-up interview via email with Phandroid, T.U. said he won’t let the incident change the way he wears his Google Glass but does want to warn other Glass wearers of what is apparently a deep suspicion of the augmented reality goggles among some members of the law-enforcement and entertainment industries.
The Easton Mall AMC had no posted policy banning Google Glass, according to T.U., and offered no warning that his use of them would be unwelcome.
A number of other theaters, bars, strip clubs, casinos and other entertainment venues have banned Google Glass, however, due to a mix of concerns over the privacy of other customers, to avoid the chance users might pirate copyrighted copy or, in the case of casinos, to stop potential cheating at the gambling tables.
The MPAA’s “zero tolerance” policy toward wearables and movie pirating recommends that theater managers “immediately alert law enforcement authorities whenever they suspect prohibited activity is taking place,” according to TechDirt, which also points out incidents in which that policy has backfired. “Do not assume that a cell phone or digital camera is being used to take still photographs and not a full-length video recording. Let the proper authorities determine what laws may have been violated and what enforcement action should be taken. ”
Image: Google, Inc.